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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
True disciples aren’t content just to follow religious rules and regulations. They listen to what God and God’s Spirit is encouraging them to do. They’re convinced that they’re being daily called to hear a gentle, disturbing voice leading them to go beyond rules and regulations, a voice constantly demanding they challenge even their culture.
APRIL 9TH, 2017: PALM SUNDAY
Though I enjoyed reading Dava Sobel’s best-selling book Galileo’s Daughter, I was deeply disturbed by what happened in the early life of the title character: Galileo’s oldest child, Virginia. Because she and her younger sister, Livia, were “illegitimate,” their father felt forced to put them – for the rest of their lives - into a cloistered convent when they were only twelve and thirteen years old. He reasoned, because of the circumstances of their birth, they’d have almost no chance of ever being married. The renowned scientist’s early 17th century Italian culture simply took such disturbing actions for granted. That’s just the way it was back then.
People rarely dare to question the restrictions culture imposes on them. We often put them on the same level as “divine commands.” That seems to be one of the reasons Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. This upstart first century CE itinerant preacher actually expected people to change their culture. We especially see him carrying out this demand in the event we commemorate today.
Jewish culture in this former carpenter’s day and age expected the Messiah to be someone who would deliver the Chosen People from Rome’s 90-year occupation of their country. To fulfil his mission, Yahweh’s anointed one would have to be a military leader, a person who could lead others into battle against Israel’s formidable foe. Among other things, such a person would logically ride a horse: a military weapon.
When Jesus comes into Jerusalem on this day, people simultaneously would have heard good news and bad news. The good news: the Messiah has finally arrived! The bad news: he’s riding a donkey! He seems to have deliberately chosen this humble mode of transportation to challenge his Jewish culture’s long standing concepts of Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, he’s certainly not the Messiah his fellow Jews are expecting.
It appears the gospel Jesus is deeply committed not just to changing our personal morality, but also in changing the culture within which we live that morality. He perfectly embodies the Scriptural definition of the ideal follower of Yahweh contained in our first reading. “Morning after morning,” Deutero-Isaiah tells us, “Yahweh opens my ear that I may hear.” True disciples aren’t content just to follow religious rules and regulations. They listen to what God and God’s Spirit is encouraging them to do. They’re convinced that they’re being daily called to hear a gentle, disturbing voice leading them to go beyond rules and regulations, a voice constantly demanding they challenge even their culture.
Of course, as Paul reminds the Philippians community in today’s second reading, they’re to hear this voice in the midst of imitating Jesus’ emptying himself for others. It’s only in the middle of such unselfish giving that the Spirit’s voice becomes clearer and louder, and the consequences of carrying out the demands of that voice become more painful. We only have to listen to Matthew’s Passion Narrative to discover the latter.
As with all gospel Passion Narratives, Matthew mentions practically nothing about Jesus’ physical suffering. (He doesn’t even say Jesus was nailed to the cross.) He’s much more interested in his psychological suffering and pain. His Jesus is misunderstood, rejected, and deserted by those for whom he gives himself.
Matthew knew practically no one in his Jewish/Christian community would ever be called upon to physically suffer as the historical Jesus suffered. But all of them would be expected to identify with his psychological suffering, something which always happens when people empty themselves for others.
Fortunately in our current culture “illegitimate” girls no longer have to worry about being sent to a cloistered convent. But who else is being hurt today? Perhaps all of us should be listening more intently to the real “listeners.”
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